What defines a democracy has always been a central question in world politics. Yet Americans and other global superpowers alike have taken on the unearned role of drawing the lines that they believe outline a “true” democracy.
As an Egyptian born and raised in California, I was astonished at the American reaction to the events of July 3 – where the removal of an incompetent president was instantly labeled as a military coup. A military coup usually means that the military and its leaders are overthrowing a government so that they may take over themselves. Yet General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Minister of Defense, and the Egyptian military have repeatedly declared that they have no desire to govern the country. They have since set a plan to draft a new constitution according to the people’s wants, reestablish an elected Parliament and hold presidential elections once more, over the course of this year.
There are basic, Egyptian cultural traits that any outsider, whether a diplomat or not, will be unfamiliar with. Firstly, having met people from multiple and diverse backgrounds, as well as being well-travelled (at least, I would like to think), I have never seen or felt the level of patriotism and nationalism that literally rolls off the Egyptian people in waves. Sit in a café and hear a patriotic song? Everyone begins tearing up, swaying and singing along. There is such a basic pride in Egyptian identity that transcends religious differences. Most Egyptians do not even like to consider themselves Arab, because they believe themselves to have very different mentalities in regards to politics, lifestyle and much more.
Secondly, there is a bond of trust that most of the Egyptian population has with its military.
This stems from the requirement that all families have their sons enlist for the army at the age of eighteen for a duration of two years, meaning that most of el sha’ab – the people – view all the soldiers as their own sons. Yet beyond that, one can look back in history to really see how this relationship was built. The military has always used its respected authority to support the will of the people, as they are those that hold all the power in their eyes. This was seen way back in the revolution of 1952 when the people decided they no longer found the monarchy to be serving its purpose, and the army aided in the people’s revolutionary efforts.
As an American, my summer in Egypt protesting in front of El Ettahadiya (the presidential palace) on June 30 and celebrating in the streets after the military’s ousting of former President Morsi, was a wake up call. We live a life disconnected from the reality of the current events we attempt to understand through our brief skimming of the New York Times. Yet we continue to believe that as Americans, we have the right to pass judgement and act on the lives of people in other countries. Quite often, these are actions and opinions that are unwanted. For me, I will always view a true democracy as one that is by the people and for the people. While that idea mirrors the American model, it is not strictly applicable to only the United States.
The Egyptian people have finally realized how to make their voice heard, and they have now established the fact that the source of government legitimacy comes from the people. With a lack of a drafted constitution governing Egypt under Morsi, thirty-three million people took to the streets to informally impeach a president that spent his first year going against everything that the January 25 revolution stood for – A’ash, Horeya weh A’adala Egtema’aya–“Bread, Freedom and Social Justice”.
There was also the fact that the former president, Mohammed Morsi, and his advisors looked out for only the Muslim Brotherhood’s organizational international interests. Nothing was done to improve standard of living; the country’s beloved satirical comedian, Bassem Youssef was interrogated for making fun of President Morsi, and he had tried to give himself unrestrained power above the constitutional limits traditionally set against the president of Egypt.
Ultimately, what happened on July 3 can only be called a coup in the sense that it was a sudden overthrowing of a presidency, but it was not a military coup as much as it was civilian coup. The military was utilized by the people as a vehicle to achieve their own undertaking – literally taking back their country and reclaiming their right to stand up to a government that does not abide by their will or act in their best interests.